China does not want war, at least not yet. It’s playing the long game


KYDPL KYODO/AP

John Blaxland, Australian National UniversityTalk of war has become louder in recent days, but the “drumbeat” has been heard for some time now as China’s military capabilities have grown. China does not want war, at least not yet. It’s playing the long game and its evident intentions have become more unnerving.

Scholars like Brendan Taylor have identified four flash points for a possible conflict with China, including Korea, the East China Sea, the South China Sea and Taiwan, but conventional war is not likely at this stage.

Where tensions are currently high

The armistice between North and South Korea has held for nearly 70 years. The pandemic has severely constrained North Korea’s economy and its testing of intercontinental ballistic missiles has ceased, for now. China has a stake in keeping Kim Jong-un’s regime in power in the North, but the prospects of reverting to a hot war have flowed and ebbed.

Just south of Korea, in the East China Sea, China has intensified its military activities around the Japanese-claimed but uninhabited Senkaku Islands. China appears to be wearing down Japan’s resolve to resist its claims over what it calls the Diaoyu Islands.

The United States has assured Japan the islands fall under their mutual defence security guarantee. But a confrontation with China could test US backing and possibly set the stage for escalated confrontation elsewhere.

Japanese plane flies over Senkaku Islands.
A Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force surveillance plane flies over the disputed Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.
Kyodo News/AP

Similarly, China’s industrial-scale island building in the South China Sea has resulted in extensive military hardware and infrastructure. This will enable the Chinese to consolidate their position militarily and assert control over the so-called nine-dash line — its vast claim over most of the sea.

The US Navy continues to conduct freedom of navigation operations (FONOPS) in the sea to challenge China’s claims. With thousands of marked and unmarked Chinese vessels operating there, however, the risk of an accident triggering an escalation is real.

In 2016, an international tribunal rejected China’s claims to the waters in a case brought by the Philippines. Despite being a signatory to the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea, China has ignored the tribunal’s ruling and continued to intrude on islands claimed by both the Philippines and Indonesia.

Recently, 220 Chinese vessels were anchored for months at a reef inside the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone. China’s actions appear premised on the dictum that possession is nine-tenths of the law.

Like China’s seizure of the Scarborough Shoal in 2012 that preceded its massive island construction further south, China could conceivably take the unwillingness of the US to challenge its latest moves as a cue for more assertive action over Taiwan.

This is, after all, the main prize Beijing seeks to secure President Xi Jinping’s legacy.

Why Taiwan’s security matters

Taiwan presents the US and its allies with a conundrum. It is a liberal open democracy and the world’s leading computer chip maker. It also sits in the middle of what military strategists refer to as the “first island chain” stretching from Japan in the north to the Philippines in the south. Its strategic significance is profound.

Having adopted a “One China” policy since 1979, the US security guarantee for Taiwan is conditional and tenuous. Reflecting growing unease over China’s actions, polls show strong US public support for defending Taiwan.

So far, ambiguity has served US interests well, providing some assurance to Taiwan while discouraging the PRC from invading.

This guarantee has been important for Japan, as well. With its pacifist constitution, and occasional concern over US commitment to its defence, Japan would be closely watching how the US approaches its Taiwan policy.




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Australia would be wise not to pound ‘war drums’ over Taiwan with so much at stake


China is so far avoiding open war

Meanwhile, China has metamorphosed both economically and militarily. An exponential growth in China’s military capabilities has been matched by a steep rise in the lethality, accuracy, range and quantity of its weapons systems. On top of this, Beijing has ratcheted up its warlike rhetoric and tactics.

Last month, Xi made a muscular speech to the Boao Forum Asia, calling for an acceptance of China not only as an emerging superpower but also as an equal in addressing global challenges.

China's navy has been significantly upgraded.
China has significantly upgraded its navy since Xi took power eight years ago.
Li Gang/Xinhua/AP

Sometimes actions speak louder than words. And China’s actions so far have avoided crossing the threshold into open warfare, refusing to present a “nail” to a US “hammer”. This is for good reason.

If war did break out, China would be vulnerable. For starters, it shares land borders with 14 countries, bringing the potential for heightened challenges, if not open attack on numerous fronts.




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Then there are the economic concerns. China has significant Japanese, US and European industrial investments, and is also overwhelmingly dependent on energy and goods passing through the Malacca Strait between Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia, the Indo-Pacific’s jugular vein.

This reliance on the Malacca Strait — referred to by one analyst as the “Malacca dilemma” — helps explain why China has invested so much capital in its Belt and Road Initiative and studiously avoided open conflict, at least until it is more self-reliant.

To avoid outright war, China evidently reckons it is better to operate a paramilitary force with white-painted ships and armed fishing vessels in the thousands to push its claims in the South China Sea and East China Sea and constrict Taiwan’s freedom of action.

It also recently passed a new law allowing its coast guard to act more like a military body and enforce maritime law — again in violation of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

China is also expanding its “grey zone” warfare against Taiwan, which includes cyber attacks, repeated incursions of its air space and territorial waters, and diplomatic isolation to undermine Taiwan’s resolve and ability to resist.




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Would America’s allies help defend Taiwan?

This persistent and escalating challenge by Chinese forces has demonstrated Taiwan’s inability to fully control its waters and air space. Beijing is continuing to build a fleet of amphibious capabilities to enable an invasion of Taiwan.

US pundits are also no longer confident the Americans would win in an outright war over Taiwan, with Washington’s top military officer in the region arguing one could happen within six years.

Taiwan lacks allies other than the United States, but Japan is mindful of the consequences of a US failure to defend Taiwan. Its ocean surveillance and coastal defence capabilities would be exposed if China took Taiwan. But Japan’s constitution precludes direct involvement in defending Taiwan.

Under its Anzus obligations, the US could call on Australia for military support to defend Taiwan. The mutual assistance provisions are not automatically invoked, but the implications of Canberra standing on the sidelines would be profound.

Warnings about rhetorical drumbeats of war remind us the US is no longer the world’s only superpower and suggest Australia should prepare for a more volatile world.

Rather than rely solely on the US, Australia should bolster its own defence capabilities. At the same time, it should collaborate more with regional partners across Southeast Asia and beyond, particularly Indonesia, Japan, India and South Korea, to deter further belligerence and mitigate the risk of tensions escalating into open war.The Conversation

John Blaxland, Professor, Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

China retaliates: suspending its Strategic Economic Dialogue with Australia is symbolic, but still a big deal


Christin Klose/Shutterstock

James Laurenceson, University of Technology SydneyAfter Australia’s foreign minister Marise Payne cancelled the Victorian state government’s memorandum of understanding to participate in China’s “Belt and Road” global infrastructure initiative a fortnight ago, she said she didn’t expect retaliation from Beijing.

That was always a hopeful message for a domestic audience.

Yesterday the Chinese government “indefinitely suspended all activities” with Australia under a framework called the China-Australia Strategic Economic Dialogue. China’s foreign ministry also warned Australia “not to walk further on the wrong path”.

The Chinese embassy had warned Payne’s “unreasonable and provocative” decision was “bound to bring further damage to bilateral relations”. It was right.

Why would China let Australia off the hook? It hasn’t shied away from retaliating against actions by the United States. Nor from punishing Australia by restricting imports of barley, beef, lobsters, wine and wood (though not iron ore).

If this is the full extent of the retaliation, though, the feeling in Canberra will be one of relief. The annual dialogue has been on ice since 2017. So this suspension doesn’t change that much.

It is, however, an important symbolic action. It will further weaken important connections between bureaucrats. It sends a strong diplomatic signal that China is prepared to escalate.

Australian foreign minister Marise Payne in happier times, at a joint press conference with her Chinese counterpart in November 2018.
Australian foreign minister Marise Payne in happier times, at a joint press conference with her Chinese counterpart in November 2018.
Mark Schiefelbein/AP

Origins of the strategic economic dialogue

The first China-Australia Strategic Economic Dialogue was in June 2014. It involved talks between Australia’s treasurer and trade minister and the chairman of China’s peak economic development and planning agency, the National Development and Reform Commission.

Holding these annual talks was part of a package of closer relations the Gillard government secured with the Chinese government in 2013.
That package also included an annual meeting between the two nations’ respective prime ministers – something China formally had only with Britain, Germany, Russia and the European Union.




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By the time of the first dialogue (in Beijing) Tony Abbott was prime minister. Still, the talks were successful enough for Australia and China to agree in November 2014 to call their relationship a “Comprehensive Strategic Partnership”.

In June 2015 the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement (ChAFTA) was finally signed after more than a decade of negotiations. In December 2015 Australia became a founding member of the China-led Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank, committing US$738 million in capital to be the sixth-largest shareholder.

But by mid-2016 the bilateral political relationship was going downhill. The last strategic economic dialogue was in September 2017.

This is why China’s announcement yesterday has been described an “act of pure symbolism”, and even a sign China has “run out of ammunition” after its barrage of trade disruptions over the past year.

But it would also be a mistake to discount the importance of the symbolism.

Symbolism matters

In formally suspending the dialogue, Beijing has signalled its preparedness to suspend talks not just between politicians but also the bureaucrats who do the vast bulk of the work that makes bilateral relationships meaningful. This is why China’s state media has emphasised that suspension includes all activities between the National Development and Reform Commission and “relevant Australian ministries”.

To be clear, Australia’s diplomatic officials aren’t being prevented from seeing their Chinese counterparts, and bureacratic links have been strained since 2017. But the Treasury representative housed at the Australian embassy may now find meetings even harder to secure, if not impossible.

As Deakin University’s Chengxin Pan notes, “symbolism about something negative matters greatly in international relations”.

Symbolism, after all, was what motivated the Australian government to tear up Victoria’s Belt and Road Initiative agreement with China.

The deal was not legally binding and didn’t commit the Victorian government to anything. But the federal government wanted to send a message: it would do this and not be deterred by the threat of Chinese retaliation. It was a signal to Beijing that Canberra was not for turning.




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Beijing has now sent a message in return: Canberra shouldn’t expect to get off scot-free.

China might not suspend its demand for Australian iron ore and natural gas. But it could further disrupt imports such as dairy products, or flows of students and tourists as borders reopen – a threat made by ambassador Cheng Jingye a year ago. Such messages from government officials also send strong cues influencing Chinese companies and consumers.

Nor is the “nuclear option” – killing ChAFTA – off the table.

Another symbolic move – for example, a joint leaders’ statement reaffirming the importance of the comprehensive partnership – may be the the best way to turn things around.

But with both sides having spent the past year doubling down and hardening positions, that prospect seems remote.The Conversation

James Laurenceson, Director and Professor, Australia-China Relations Institute (ACRI), University of Technology Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Australia would be wise not to pound ‘war drums’ over Taiwan with so much at stake


Taiwan’s military has been on alert amid large numbers of Chinese war plane incursions in its air space.
Chiang Ying-ying/AP

Tony Walker, La Trobe UniversityAustralians woke up to the freelancing advice this week that “drums of war” were beating louder in their neighbourhood, according to the country’s top security official.

It is hardly news that regional anxiety is rising as the countries of the Indo-Pacific scramble to accommodate China’s surging power and influence.

However, an essay by Michael Pezzullo, Home Affairs secretary that spoke publicly of a possible war with an unnamed adversary, ventured into territory not previously traversed by government officials.

It appears not to have had the imprimatur of Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Morrison did not repudiate Pezzullo’s remarks, nor did he endorse them. He said Australia’s goal was to “pursue peace and stability” and a “world order that favours freedom”.

This is what Pezzullo, whose responsibilities include the domestic spy agency the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, said in a message to his staff without directly mentioning the dragon in the room — China.

In a world of perpetual tension and dread, the drums of war beat sometimes faintly and distantly, and at other times more loudly and ever closer […] until we are faced with the only prudent, if sorrowful course — to send off, yet again, our warriors to fight the nation’s wars.

These words, untethered from any immediate threat, might have been put aside, but their timing has helped focus attention on the security challenges facing Australia at a moment of considerable strategic uncertainty.

The change of administration in Washington, along with a continuing deterioration in relations between Canberra and Beijing, has further unsettled Australia’s national security calculations in an age of regional uncertainty.

The simple question in all of this is whether conflict with China has become more likely, even inevitable? And whether hawkish elements in the Australian national security establishment, like Pezzullo, are overstating the risks?




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Is war over Taiwan likely?

The core of this discussion relates predominantly to Taiwan, amid the many other issues bedeviling relations between China and the West.

These include human rights abuses in places like Xinjiang, the abrogation of the “one country, two systems” agreements over Hong Kong, China’s abrasive, mercantilist economic practices, its suspected cyber intrusions, and its aggressive base construction in the disputed waters of the South China Sea.

All of these issues cause tensions with its neighbours and the wider international community.

However, it is China’s recent threats against Taiwan that have emerged as the most vexed issue. They present a risk, however remote, of a military confrontation between superpowers.

Barring a miscalculation by either side in a tense environment, the likelihood of open conflict is low, given the potential costs involved on either side.

On the other hand, unless Washington and Beijing achieve new understandings that lower the temperature in and around the Taiwan Strait, Taiwanese security will continue to weigh heavily on America and its alliance partners in the Asia-Pacific.

As an ANZUS Treaty ally of the United States — and with its own regional security preoccupations — Australia cannot avoid contemplating the possibility of a meltdown in the Taiwan Strait.

This includes the perennial question of whether Australia would involve itself militarily against China if asked to do so by its treaty ally. Such an outcome hardly bears contemplating.




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Will the US make clear its intentions on Taiwan?

In its initial interactions with China on the Taiwan issue, the new Biden administration is treading carefully. This is in contrast to its predecessor, whose foreign posturing tended to follow the fluctuating whims of Donald Trump.

Among the options for Biden’s State Department is one that would transition America’s approach to Taiwan from one of strategic ambiguity to clarity.

This means rather than taking a non-explicit approach — leaving open the option of a military response should China seek to reunify Taiwan by force — the US would make an explicit declaration that it would would, in fact, respond militarily.

This approach is gaining support in Congress, where sentiment has hardened against China’s behaviour on various fronts.

Former Senator Chris Dodd in Taiwan this month.
Former Senator Chris Dodd led a US delegation to Taiwan this month to reaffirm Washington’s commitment to the self-governing island.
Taiwan Presidential Office/AP

It would be premature to declare a watershed has been reached on the Taiwan issue in which the US would make clear its intentions. But the debate appears to be heading in that direction.

Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, penned an influential essay in the September 2020 edition of Foreign Affairs in which he declared a policy of strategic ambiguity had “run its course”.

The time has come for the United States to introduce a policy of strategic clarity: one that makes explicit that the United Sates would respond to any Chinese use of force against Taiwan. Such a policy would lower the chances of Chinese miscalculation, which is the likeliest catalyst for war in the Taiwan Strait.

Haass has a point.

In another essay published this month by three veteran security analysts, however, the authors issue a warning that “hyping the threat China poses to Taiwan does China’s work for it”.

As troubling as the trend-lines of Chinese behaviour are, it would be a mistake to infer that they represent an unalterable catastrophe. China’s top priority now and in the foreseeable future is to deter Taiwan independence rather than compel unification.

Why China favours a less risky approach

Beijing’s crude policy of conducting war games in Taiwan’s vicinity, including intrusions into its airspace, might suggest China is preparing retake the island. But the question is at what cost to its international standing, economic interests, and internal stability?

What is much more likely, Haass argues, is China will continue to exert pressure on Taiwan by various means in the hope that “once ripe the melon will drop from its stem”.

It shouldn’t be overlooked that in its latest five-year plan, China reaffirmed a policy guideline of pursuing “peaceful development of cross-strait relations”.




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Finally, in all of this, there is the cold hard calculation of the military balance in the Taiwan Strait.

In its latest annual report to Congress, the US Department of Defence acknowledged China had “achieved parity with — or even exceeded – the United States” in three areas: shipbuilding, land-based ballistic and cruise missiles, and air defence.

In other words, the military balance in the Taiwan Strait is continuing to shift in China’s favour. This reality makes loose talk of Australian “warriors” responding to the trumpet call of war even less palatable.The Conversation

Tony Walker, Vice-chancellor’s fellow, La Trobe University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Morrison government quashes Victoria’s Belt and Road deal with China


Michelle Grattan, University of CanberraThe Morrison government has cancelled the Belt and Road agreements Victoria has with China.

In the first decisions under the government’s new law allowing it to quash arrangements states, territories and public universities have, or propose to have, with foreign governments, Foreign Minister Marise Payne announced four Victorian agreements would end.

Two are with China, and the others are with Iran and Syria.

The agreements with China are the memorandum of understanding on the Belt and Road initiative signed in October 2018, and a subsequent more detailed framework agreement signed in October 2019.

The agreement with Iran related to student exchanges and dates from 2004. The protocol with Syria was for scientific co-operation, and goes back to 1999.

Payne, who makes the determinations under the foreign arrangements scheme, said the agreements were “inconsistent with Australia’s foreign policy or adverse to our foreign relations” under the scheme’s test.

The action is likely to elicit another sharp response from China, which is extensively targeting Australian trade and regularly delivers rhetorical attacks.

The Victorian buy-in to the Belt and Road network – China’s global infrastructure and development strategy – was seen as the prime target when the government first announced its plan to review the agreements with foreign governments and their entities.

Scott Morrison said last year about Belt and Road that it was a program Australia’s foreign policy did not recognise “because we don’t believe it is consistent with Australia’s national interest”.

The foreign arrangements scheme, operating since December, was driven substantially by concern about foreign interference in Australia, in particular from China.

It also reflects the broader principle that foreign relations are a national matter and agreements by states and territories with foreign governments should not be at odds with the federal government’s policies.

Federal sources say the Victorian agreements with China have not yielded any tangible outcomes for the state.

The other two agreements have been overtaken by major changes in relations with those countries.

Payne said under the audits of existing and proposed foreign arrangements required by the new law, she had been notified of more than 1000 arrangements.

“States and territories have now completed their initial audit of existing arrangements with foreign national governments.

“The more than 1,000 notified so far reflect the richness and breadth of Australia’s international interests and demonstrate the important role played by Australia’s states, territories, universities and local governments in advancing Australia’s interests abroad.”

Payne has approved a proposed Memorandum of Understanding on Cooperation on Human Resources Development in Energy and Mineral Resources Sector between the Western Australian and Indonesian governments.

A spokesperson for the Victorian government said the law was “entirely a matter for the Commonwealth government”.

UPDATE: Chinese embassy attacks cancellation of BRI agreements as ‘provocative’ and harmful to bilateral relations

The Chinese government has condemned the cancellation of the Belt and Road agreements as “provocative”.

A statement from a Chinese embassy spokesperson expressed “strong displeasure and resolute opposition” to Payne’s announcement.

“The BRI is an initiative for economic cooperation, which follows the principle of extensive consultation, joint contribution and shared benefits, and upholds the spirit of openness, inclusiveness and transparency.

“It has brought tangible benefits to the participating parties. The BRI cooperation between China and the Victoria state is conducive to deepening economic and trade relations between the two sides, and will promote economic growth and the well-being of the people of Victoria.”

The statement said this was “another unreasonable and provocative move taken by the Australian side against China.

“It further shows that the Australian government has no sincerity in improving China-Australia relations. It is bound to bring further damage to bilateral relations, and will only end up hurting itself.”The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Why China’s attempts to stifle foreign media criticism are likely to fail


Tony Walker, La Trobe UniversityWhen China’s ambassador to Australia, Cheng Jingye, summoned journalists to the Chinese embassy last week, this was not an occasion for polite exchanges on a troubled relationship between Beijing and Canberra.

Cheng was intent on communicating a forceful message to Australian reporters that China was intent on fighting back against what it regards as a great wall of unfavourable publicity about its treatment of its Uyghur minority.

In some media reporting of the press conference, the exercise was referred to as a “charm offensive”. However, a more accurate characterisation would be to describe it as an attempt by China to draw a line under increasingly negative foreign reporting of its activities.

This reporting is having real world consequences for China’s image abroad. It is inviting pushback from an international community that is mobilising against Chinese overreach. Beijing will not be insensitive to the risks of brand damage to China’s reputation, or risks of sanctions.

The Biden administration’s canvassing of a potential boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics in China will have got Beijing’s attention. If countries, led by the United States, stay away this would represent a significant loss of face.

Global campaign against unfavourable reporting

Senior Chinese officials and Uyghurs appeared via video during Cheng’s embassy briefing to refute media accounts of human rights abuses in the Xinjiang region as “Western lies”, “fabrications” and the work of “anti-China forces”.

In its propaganda offensive, China has not been averse to using the “fake news” label, popularised by former US President Donald Trump to assail its critics.

Cheng’s press conference was part of a larger, global campaign against unfavorable reporting in which Beijing has resorted to a combination of bluster and in some cases reprisals against journalists who have cut too close to the bone.

Australian citizen Cheng Lei appears to be a case in point. Cheng, an anchor for state broadcaster China Global Television Network (CGTN), was detained in China last year without explanation, but now stands accused of ill-defined national security breaches.




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In private social media posts, she had criticised China’s initial response to the coronavirus pandemic. It is not clear whether this is the basis of allegations against her, but no other reasonable explanation has been forthcoming to this point.

China appears to have been particularly displeased by the reporting of the BBC. In February, Beijing banned all BBC broadcasting in China in retaliation for British authorities having revoked the license of the Chinese overseas broadcaster, CGTN. This represented a significant escalation in the conflict between the Chinese authorities and Western media.

What Chinese propaganda is seeking to achieve

Cheng’s propaganda exercise should therefore be seen as part of a global campaign to stifle what China regards as unfair and damaging criticism of its policies at home and abroad under paramount leader Xi Jinping.

If this Canberra media event was designed to dampen negative reporting in the Australian media, however, the campaign is unlikely to work for the simple reason there is little, or no, sign of Beijing reversing its antagonistic behaviour towards Western media.




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Scarcely a day passes without criticism of foreign media in Chinese state-controlled outlets. These attacks underscore the gap that exists between Western perceptions of the role of journalists in democratic societies and China’s view that media should serve the interests of the state.

Typical of the sort of criticism levelled at Western media is the following contribution to the nationalistic Global Times by a professor of international relations at Shanghai’s Fudan University.

What some media have done is exaggerate Chinese authorities’ fault in a bid to overthrow the Chinese system. Take the BBC. This British media outlet did not call on the British public to overthrow the British government even if it has miserably failed to effectively curb the spread of COVID-19. This is double standards.

This level of naivete is hard to credit, but it is revealing nevertheless of the gap that exists between Chinese views of the Western media and vice versa.

China’s bluster against Western media may play to nationalist sentiment at home, but it is hardly likely to be effective in neutralising foreign media criticism.

Australian media will not stop providing a platform for legitimate and widely publicised concerns about China’s mistreatment of its minorities; its disrespect for the “one country, two systems” agreements it signed with the UK to facilitate the handover of Hong Kong; its threatening behaviour towards Taiwan; and its expansion of base facilities in disputed waters of the South China Sea.

Beijing’s trade war against Australia smacks of the sort of overreach that may have become a staple of Chinese propaganda in state-run media, but in reality this is not a campaign that serves China’s own interests.

That is assuming Beijing is concerned about promoting itself as a reasonably constructive citizen in its own Indo-Pacific neighborhood.

China’s dismal treatment of journalists

China’s press freedom record leaves a lot to be desired.

In the latest Reporters Without Borders world press freedom index, China rated 177 out of 180. It is by far the world’s largest captor of journalists with at least 121 detained, some in life-threatening conditions.

In March, the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China reported an intensification of harassment of foreign reporters and increased use of “visa weaponisation”. This had led to the expulsion of 18 foreign correspondents in the first half of 2020. Others, like ABC’s Bill Birtles and the Australian Financial Review’s Michael Smith left because of concerns about being detained..

China regards the FCCC as an “illegal” organisation. As Cedric Alviani, Reporters Without Borders’s East Asian bureau head, said,

In recent years, Chinese regime apparatus has come to consider foreign correspondents as unwanted witnesses and goes to great length to prevent them from collecting information that doesn’t mirror its propaganda.

In a 2019 survey of the 10 “most censored” countries in the world by the Committee to Protect Journalists, China rated fifth behind only Eritrea, North Korea, Turkmenistan and Saudi Arabia. It said,

China has the world’s most extensive and sophisticated censorship apparatus. […] Since 2017, no website or social media account is allowed to provide a news service on the internet without the Cyberspace Administration of China’s permission. Internet users are blocked from foreign search engines, news websites, and social media platforms by the Great Firewall. […] Foreign social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube are banned.

This is the lived reality for foreign journalists in China in the Xi era, and for Chinese consumers of uncensored news, for that matter.




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At no other stage since China began opening to the outside world in the Deng Xiaoping era of the late 1970s have conditions for foreign correspondents in China been more threatening — or more counterproductive from Beijing’s point of view.

China’s war against the foreign media is at a tangent to its proclaimed ambition to continue opening its economy to foreign investment. The anti-Western media campaign jars with hopes that it would become a responsible international stakeholder, as well.

If Ambassador Cheng’s press conference marks a new stage in China’s battles with foreign media, this promises to be a long march.The Conversation

Tony Walker, Vice-chancellor’s fellow, La Trobe University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Russia and China are sending Biden a message: don’t judge us or try to change us. Those days are over


Russian Foreign Ministry Press Service/AP

Tony Kevin, Australian National UniversityThe past week has marked a watershed moment in Russia’s relations with the West — and the US in particular. In two dramatic, televised moments, US President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin have changed the dynamics between their countries perhaps irrevocably.

Most commentators in the West have focused on Putin’s “trolling” of Biden by dryly — though, according to Putin, unironically — wishing his American counterpart “good health”. This, of course, came after Biden called Putin a “killer”.

But a more careful and complete reading of Putin’s message to the US is necessary to understand how a Russian leader is, finally, ready to tell the US: do not judge us by your claimed standards, and do not try to tell us what to do.

Putin has never asserted these propositions so bluntly. And it matters when he does.

Biden has put Putin on notice, saying he will ‘pay a price’ for alleged meddling in the 2020 US presidential election.
Evan Vucci?AP

Putin’s message to the new US president

The tense test of strength began when Biden was asked about Putin in an interview with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos and agreed he was “a killer” and didn’t have a soul. He also said Putin will “pay a price” for his actions.

Putin then took the unusual step of going on the state broadcaster VGTRK with a prepared five-minute statement in response to Biden.

In an unusually pointed manner, Putin recalled the US history of genocide of its Indigenous people, the cruel experience of slavery, the continuing repression of Black Americans today and the unprovoked US nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the second world war.

He suggested states should not judge others by their own standards:

Whatever you say about others is what you are yourself.

Some American journalists and observers have reacted to this as “trolling”. It was not.

It was the preamble to Putin’s most important message in years to what he called the American “establishment, the ruling class”. He said the US leadership is determined to have relations with Russia, but only “on its own terms”.

Although they think that we are the same as they are, we are different people. We have a different genetic, cultural and moral code. But we know how to defend our own interests.

And we will work with them, but in those areas in which we ourselves are interested, and on those conditions that we consider beneficial for ourselves. And they will have to reckon with it. They will have to reckon with this, despite all attempts to stop our development. Despite the sanctions, insults, they will have to reckon with this.

This is new for Putin. He has for years made the point, always politely, that Western powers need to deal with Russia on a basis of correct diplomatic protocols and mutual respect for national sovereignty, if they want to ease tensions.

But never before has he been as blunt as this, saying in effect: do not dare try to judge us or punish us for not meeting what you say are universal standards, because we are different from you. Those days are now over.




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China pushing back against the US, too

Putin’s forceful statement is remarkably similar to the equally firm public statements made by senior Chinese diplomats to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Alaska last week.

Blinken opened the meeting by lambasting China’s increasing authoritarianism and aggressiveness at home and abroad – in Tibet, Xinjiang, Hong Kong and the South China Sea. He claimed such conduct was threatening “the rules-based order that maintains global stability”.

Yang Jiechi, centre, speaking at the opening session of US-China talks in Alaska.
Frederic J. Brown/AP

Yang Jiechi, Chinese Communist Party foreign affairs chief, responded by denouncing American hypocrisy. He said

The US does not have the qualification to say that it wants to speak to China from a position of strength. The US uses its military force and financial hegemony to carry out long-arm jurisdiction and suppress other countries. It abuses so-called notions of national security to obstruct normal trade exchanges, and to incite some countries to attack China.

He said the US had no right to push its own version of democracy when it was dealing with so much discontent and human rights problems at home.




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Russia and China drawing closer together

Putin’s statement was given added weight by two diplomatic actions: Russia’s recalling of its ambassador in the US, and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s meeting in China with his counterpart, Wang Yi.

Beijing and Moscow agreed at the summit to stand firm against Western sanctions and boost ties between their countries to reduce their dependence on the US dollar in international trade and settlements. Lavrov also said,

We both believe the US has a destabilising role. It relies on Cold War military alliances and is trying to set up new alliances to undermine the world order.

Though Biden’s undiplomatic comments about Putin may have been unscripted, the impact has nonetheless been profound. Together with the harsh tone of the US-China foreign ministers meeting in Alaska — also provoked by the US side — it is clear there has been a major change in the atmosphere of US-China-Russia relations.

What will this mean in practice? Both Russia and China are signalling they will only deal with the West where and when it suits them. Sanctions no longer worry them.

The two powers are also showing they are increasingly comfortable working together as close partners, if not yet military allies. They will step up their cooperation in areas where they have mutual interests and the development of alternatives to the Western-dominated trade and payments systems.




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Countries in Asia and further afield are closely watching the development of this alternative international order, led by Moscow and Beijing. And they can also recognise the signs of increasing US economic and political decline.

It is a new kind of Cold War, but not one based on ideology like the first incarnation. It is a war for international legitimacy, a struggle for hearts and minds and money in the very large part of the world not aligned to the US or NATO.

The US and its allies will continue to operate under their narrative, while Russia and China will push their competing narrative. This was made crystal clear over these past few dramatic days of major power diplomacy.

The global balance of power is shifting, and for many nations, the smart money might be on Russia and China now.The Conversation

Tony Kevin, Emeritus Fellow, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.